Melbourne: A determined Maria Sharapova handed out a tennis lesson to the ageing Venus Williams at the Australian Open on Friday, crushing the veteran American in straight sets.
The Russian, who lifted the trophy at Melbourne Park in 2008, was in rampant form, winning 6-1, 6-3 in 79 minutes on Rod Laver Arena against the vastly experienced seven-time Grand Slam champion.
Next up for the world number two, who was beaten in the final last year by Victoria Azarenka, is Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium, who overcame Russian qualifier Valeria Savinykh.
Sharapova has been in irresistible form in Melbourne, becoming the first person to score two “double bagel” 6-0, 6-0 Grand Slam wins in a row since 1985 in her opening two matches.
She failed to make it three but gave it a good crack and has now won 36 of the 40 games she has played at the opening Grand Slam of the season.
Her concession of just four games equals German great Steffi Graf’s 1989 mark as the fewest by a woman to this stage at the Australian Open.
“I was a really determined player out there because I knew the tennis that she’s capable of producing and playing,” said Sharapova.
“Despite what she’s ranked or seeded, it doesn’t matter when you go out on the court. She’s been there.
“She’s experienced enough to know no matter if you’re playing the third round, the quarters, or the final, you have to be ready.
“I certainly was. Since the draw came out, I was really looking forward to that match-up.”
Williams is only seeded 25 but she has been climbing back up the rankings after injury and illness, and was expected to offer more resistance.
But Sharapova was in another class and hardly put a foot wrong.
“Definitely not my best day today. But, there’s always other days to play better,” said Williams.
“Honestly, every day that I practice is a day that I’m motivated to be better. Regardless of my results I want to be better, the best, the best that I can bring.”
Williams, who has not won a Grand Slam title since Wimbledon in 2008, knew she had her work cut out when she was immediately broken to trail 1-0.
She had a break point in the second game but failed to convert, and went 3-0 down when she blasted a forehand into the net.
The American finally got off the mark when the Russian netted a backhand return, but the reprieve was shortlived and Sharapova raced to the set in just 29 minutes.
Williams was out of her depth and struggling to even win a point as she fell 3-0 behind in the second set before rallying to claw back to 3-1.
She started finding her range and managed to force a break at 5-2, and then held her serve but with 26 unforced errors, most off her forehand, it was delaying the inevitable and Sharapova finished the match with an ace.
Looking ahead to Flipkens on Sunday, Sharapova was wary.
“I think this is the best Slam that she’s done, right, fourth round? So there’s a reason she’s at this level,” Sharapova said.
“She’s a tricky player, uses her slice really well, and a good athlete as well; moves around the court quite well. It’s an opponent I really have to look out for.”